A Message to Lawyers: Help Those Who Defend America
by Robert E. Hirshon, President, American Bar Association
While most Americans watched the events of September 11 in stunned horror, a smaller group the men and women of America’s military reserves also prepared to serve their country. On September 14, the President authorized the call-up of up to one million reservists.
Although to date fewer than 53,000 have been called to duty, all across America reservists and their families are preparing for the difficult transition from civilian to military life. In addition to facing uncertainty about the length and location of their service, these men and women must confront such issues as a sudden dramatic decrease in family income, the loss of employer-provided benefits, and the potential inability to meet current financial obligations.
Fortunately, reservists in the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have special protections available to them so that they are not unnecessarily and unfairly hurt financially simply because they have undertaken to serve their country. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act were passed to protect and assist reservists. The military services through their Judge Advocates General provide important legal assistance that can help reservists get their affairs in order and protect their rights upon their return to civilian life. And in the event that additional reservists are called up, civilian lawyers are brushing up their skills and learning about the laws that govern the rights of reservists.
As President of the American Bar Association, I am deeply committed to pro bono efforts. That is why the ABA is working to change the law so that it is easier for the military to accept legal services from the civilian bar.
Today I am asking all of America’s lawyers to help those who are called to duty for our country. Join the lawyers across the country who have already indicated they are willing to be part of the effort. Together with the superb services provided by the JAG Corps, this pro bono effort will ensure that the men and women who serve our country will have all the help necessary to prepare for active duty and the support they will need when they return to civilian life.
The American Bar Association will offer a continuing legal education program that will cover the rights of reservists under SSCRA and USERRA, as well as the issue of survivors’ benefits. This three-hour course will be available in both audio and video format and it will be free. It will draw on the expertise of some of the best in the business -- Col. John Odom, U.S. Air Force JAGC, who won the largest-ever judgment under SSCRA; Lt. Col. Dan Culver, U.S. Army JAGC; and civilian lawyer Nick Grasselli. Additional information on this and other efforts to help reservists is available at our Web site, www.abanet.org/legalservices/helpreservists.
I see this effort as paralleling the build-up of our military forces. All of us hope we are able to win the war against terrorism long before all of the reservists are called up for active duty. So too, I hope that most of the lawyers we train will never have their skills tested. But I believe that, just like the reservists, we must be ready to serve. I challenge my fellow lawyers to do their part. All of us together can do our part to help defend America.